The Last Emperor - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Arrow Limited EditionOverview -
One of the most daring and sumptuous independent film productions ever undertaken, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor sits upon a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray throne from Arrow Video. A 2-Disc release, the the original Theatrical Cut offers up a gorgeous 4K Dolby Vision transfer with beautiful audio with the longer extended version offered in an impressive 1080p complete with deluxe packaging and booklet. An excellent addition to the collection Highly Recommended
The monumental masterpiece by cult director Bernardo Bertolucci is now available for the first time on Ultra HD Blu-ray. In 1988, the film won an impressive 9 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director awards. Thanks to a brand new restoration of the original negative, the magnificent images now shine in 4K resolution.
This is the almost unbelievable life story of Puyi, who was brought to Beijing in 1908 as a two-year-old and crowned the new emperor there. From then on, an army of servants takes care of the godlike but isolated child emperor. But outside the palace walls, the revolution soon rages and the millennia-old imperial rule is coming to an end: Puyi is THE LAST EMPEROR. The visually stunning masterpiece impressively traces the path of his life: from his brief reign to his forced abdication and expulsion to his search for meaning as a disempowered person and his collaboration with Japan, for which he was imprisoned for many years before dying as a simple citizen.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Historical epics like Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor can be incredibly difficult to review. On one hand, you have to juggle historical accuracy while on the other you have to balance entertainment value for an audience. Toss in an expensive independently funded production against the backdrop of Chinese censorship and script approval along with the honor of being the first Western film to shoot at the Forbidden City, there’s a lot one must consider with a film like this. But history, in this case, speaks for itself. Sweeping the Oscars and bringing home nine golden dudes including Best Picture, The Last Emperor has proven to be one of Bertolucci's greatest accomplishments.
Focusing on Puyi, the final monarch of the Qing Dynasty, we have a fascinating historical character who witnessed incredible cultural change firsthand from a unique social position. He was also far from being a benign presence in these events, and Bertolucci may undercut his film by glossing over the worst behaviors of his main character. No historical epic is immune from glossing over or stretching certain details to fit a narrative, but it’s important to understand that Puyi was a far more complicated individual than portrayed.
To the credit of actor John Lone, he delivers an incredibly nuanced portrayal of the adult Puyi humanizing a figure born to believe he was beyond the approach of normal humans. Richard Vuu, Tsou Tijger, and Tao Wu were also impressive in their performances as the young Emperor in his formative years. Between these actors, we flash backward and forward in time as the three-year-old Puyi ascends the throne, learns of Western culture, and grapples with his reeducation after the fall of the Japanese-backed Manchukuo state. The film tackles a large period in 20th-century Chinese history and these actors never falter.
John Lone has always given fantastic performances, even in films like The Shadow, but it’s here where he shines brightest. It’s one of those mysteries how this film could sweep the Oscars but neglect to even nominate him. Likewise, Joan Chen delivers a devastating performance as Puyi’s wife Wan Jung. While a small supporting role, Peter O’Toole gives a masterful turn as the English tutor Reginald Johnston and yet again another oversight from the Academy.
Leave it to an Italian filmmaker like Bertolucci to bring this epic tale to life. Combined with producer Jeremy Thomas, co-writer Mark Peploe, and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor is a visual feast while never losing its dramatic footing focusing on its main character. A film like this, the first Western production to shoot in the Forbidden City, could easily get lost in the visual splendor. It’s a costume epic that has a lush, vivid eye for spectacle but thanks to Bertolucci and Peploe’s screenplay, never loses the eye for human drama.
I wouldn’t personally put this on a “favorite films” or “best ever made” list, but it’s one I greatly admire. I grew up with this movie in the house thanks to my dad forgetting to send back the monthly Columbia House card. It was one of those films I watched very young and probably annoyed my parents to death because I had so many questions. “Why did they do this?” “Why did this happen?” “What’s going to happen now?” I had so many questions because it was one of the first big “grownup” films that fully captured my attention. Because of that, I try to revisit The Last Emperor every few years. It’s not one I pull off my shelf often, but every time it arrives in a new home video format I’m always compelled to give it another viewing.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Last Emperor makes its grand entrance on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in a two-disc Limited Edition set from Arrow Video UK. The theatrical cut is offered in 4K and pressed on a BD-100 disc with a Region B BD-50 offering the extended cut. The discs are held in a two-disc case with reversible insert art and six art cards. Also included is a sixty-page booklet featuring some terrific essays from Phillip Kemp, Kat Ellinger, and Stefano Baschiera as well as a double-sided reproduction poster. The whole package is bound together in a lovely hardstock slipcase. This edition appears to have gone out of print. The currently available single-disc release does not include the Extended Cut.
The Theatrical Cut of The Last Emperor arrives fully restored to 2160p with the proper 2.39:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10). The effort was a shared project between Turbine and Arrow in collaboration with StudioCanal. The results are simply fabulous. The contrasting images of the bright, bold, and colorful early years of Pu Yi’s life against the dark, cold, and drab later years are striking and have never looked better. The smallest intricate details in facial features, clothing textures, and the incredible production design never falter. The ceremony where Pu Yi is to choose a wife and first consort is particularly stunning with the immaculate beading in the costumes. There’s good reason why this film won Best Cinematography - Vittorio Storaro earned every ounce of that golden statue.
Dolby Vision HDR is another amazing highlight for this release offering spot-on color saturation giving extra attention to key primaries, especially reds, while ensuring flesh tones are healthy and human. Black levels are in perfect form offering deep inky blacks with lovely shadow separations. This is key for the scenes depicting Puyi’s later years. Whites are brilliant and crisp without blooming. From frame one, this is an exceptional transfer.
The Extended Cut has always looked a bit rough. I don’t know the exact reason why the elements weren’t available for restoration, I’ve heard different explanations, but it’s a notable down from the 4K. I keep hoping one day we’ll see this version fully restored, but as is the Theatrical Cut is still magnificent.
On the audio front, we have two options, a DTS-HD MA 2.0 or a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Personally, I loved the 5.1 option. The 2.0 is strong in its own right, but it feels far more lively and immersive with 5.1 audio. The extra spacing of key audio effects, dialog, and the magnificent Oscar-winning score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, and Cong Su sounds magnificent. Big lively parade scenes or anytime you have hundreds of extras, the soundscape feels massive. Later when Pu Yi is in confinement during his reeducation period the mix is intensely confined. The slightest foot shuffle or whisper has great impact for these tense scenes.
Arrow’s offering of The Last Emperor comes with a host of bonus features on the 4K disc. Considering the state it’s in, the Extended Cut is essentially its own bonus feature so I’m including it in this list as such. Unique to this release is a very interesting visual essay called First to Last from film critic David Cairns looking at the career of Bernardo Bertolucci prior to making The Last Emperor. In a follow-up piece, Open the Door Cairns offers his views of the making of the film. Between the two pieces, there’s a nice bit of information to digest.
- First to Last: The Road to the Forbidden City (HD 19:54)
- Open the Door (HD 23:02)
- Archival Interviews (1987)
- Bernardo Bertolucci (SD 8:19)
- John Lone (SD 8:34)
- Joan Chen (SD 9:14)
- Postcard from China (SD 7:40)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD 2:35)
- Stills Gallery
- The Last Emperor Extended Cut (HD 3:38:38)
The Last Emperor ascends to the 4K throne with a gorgeous Dolby Vision transfer. Bernardo Bertolucci’s daring and unique biopic is remains a fascinating undertaking about a compelling and challenging figure in modern history. Arrow delivers an exciting 2-Disc Limited Edition set for fans to consume, but the film’s extended cut is Region Locked so you need to have a Region Free player. On 4K, the film simply looks magnificent with two great audio options and a nice selection of interesting bonus features. As The Last Emperor is yet to be released domestically, importing is your current best option. Highly Recommended
Edward Zwick's Glory 35th Anniversary 4K UHD Limited Edition SteelBook Arrives on June 4By:
Turbine Reissues 3-Disc Pitch Black Director's Cut 4K UHD Set with Their World-Exclusive Atmos Audio Feb 29thBy:
Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West Coming to 4K UHD May 14By:
Brandon Lee's "The Crow" Ascends to 4K Ultra HD May 7thBy: